Historic MATSUYAMA (松山), with a population of over 450,000, is Shikoku’s largest city and single best destination. Despite its size, Matsuyama is a convivial, friendly place that’s easy to get around, thanks to a tram network that bestows an old-fashioned grace to a city that also proudly promotes its literary connections (see Masaoka Shiki). Most points of interest are centred on the impressive castle, Matsuyama-jō, and the popular hot-spring suburb of Dōgo, 2km east of the centre, home to one of Japan’s most magnificent bathhouses.
Local warlords from the Kono clan built a fortress in Dōgo in the fourteenth century, while Matsuyama was created in 1602 by daimyō Katō Yoshiakira when he built his castle on Katsuyama Hill. In 1635, the Matsudaira clan took charge of the castle and ruled the area until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Rebuilt following the drubbing it received during World War II, this largely modern city is now the capital of Ehime-ken and has expanded to encompass the once separately administered Dōgo.
You can see Matsuyama’s main sights in a day, but it’s better to give yourself an extra day or two to savour the relaxed mood induced by Dōgo’s onsen. The city is also a good base for day-trips to Uchiko, Ōzu and Uwajima and is not too far from Shikoku’s highest mountain, Ishizuchi-san.